What makes young women consider an undergraduate major in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM)? What helps increase enrollment of under-represented groups in STEM fields? Faculty and staff from UMass Amherst School of Computer Science contend that introducing youth to various technologies at an early age and providing professional development for K-12 educators can help.
Since 2007, more than 21,000 K-12 and college students across Massachusetts have attended more than 350 events, such as technology career days and fairs, computer camps, programming, and robotics workshops. More than 1,200 faculty, admissions, and guidance staff have participated in professional development. These activities are carried out by the Commonwealth Alliance for Information Technology Education (CAITE) and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, National Science Foundation-sponsored efforts based at the UMass Amherst School of Computer Science.
Not coincidentally, the total enrollment of undergraduate Computer Science majors at UMass Amherst increased by 137% (from 244 to 579 students) between 2007 and 2013. Of these, more are women (a growth rate of over 300%) and under-represented groups (a growth rate of over 100%).¹ Technology and computing jobs are among the fastest-growing and highest-paying, yet few women are currently benefiting from these occupations.² Programs like CAITE and ECEP not only help increase enrollment, but also give UMass Amherst graduates computing and IT skills they need for their careers.
ROBOTICS & CODING EVENTS MAKE TECHNOLOGY ACCESSIBLE TO K-12 GIRLS
Girls Connect, a one-day introduction to robotics, for girls ages 8-13 in Western Massachusetts, organized by CAITE, in partnership with FIRST LEGO League, has been particularly successful. Renee Fall, CAITE Project Manager and ECEP co-Principal Investigator, says, “The ‘robot’ event is an eye opener for parents and teachers when they see the high level of interest and what the girls can accomplish in a day. It opens possibilities for girls […] and more importantly, starts a longer experience with computing.” Since 2010, this event has been offered 9 times, teaching more than 300 girls how to build and program LEGO robots.
Computer Science Education Week, a nationwide event held each December engages local K-12 schools, youth-serving organizations, and communities to expose students to computing opportunities. In 2013, 25 girls from Girls, Incorporate of Holyoke spent an hour programming based on the popular game, Angry Birds, with support from CAITE and the “Hour of Code” campaign. Girls are excited and very proud of what they are doing,” says Cheryl Kiras, Pathways Coordinator for CAITE/ECEP.
EXPANDING INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY CURRICULUM IN K-12 SCHOOLS
The ECEP Alliance works with Massachusetts and other states to expand the amount and depth of computing taught in K-12 schools. These efforts include promoting the development of standards and credentials for teachers and allowing computer science to count toward graduation and/or college admission requirements. ECEP also offers professional development workshops to K-12 educators. In summer 2014, nearly 100 Massachusetts teachers participated in 8 workshops, offering 174 hours of training. More than 110 educators attended workshops on how to design and organize sustainable summer computing camps as well.
CAITE and ECEP work with Massachusetts public community colleges and universities, Massachusetts K-12 educators, the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN), three states (California, Georgia, and South Carolina), and several national organizations, including the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT). In the future, the programs will focus on expanding partnerships with organizations and universities across the country to share strategies and models.
By introducing students from the local community to computing and IT and partnering with K-12 teachers to help students become creators of technology, not just consumers, these projects help address critical issues of under-representation in IT fields, shape a new generation of students, and advance the Massachusetts innovation community.
¹ McArdle, Alan. Associate Director, Analytic Studies, Office of Institutional Research, UMass Amherst, March 2014.
² Ashcraft, Katherine, Elezabeth Eger, and Michelle Friend. GIRLS IN IT: THE FACTS. National Center for Women & Information Technology, 2012, available from http://www.ncwit.org/resources/girls-it-facts.
“After attending events with my students, I’ve noticed girls become student mentors and help other kids with technology […] they also feel empowered to use new types of technology.”
Kathryn Runyan, K-6 Instructional Technology Teacher, Wildwood Elementary, Amherst, MA
“The community has been engaged and appreciative. They are very receptive for bringing technology and computing into schools and want more […] girls are hungry for it and participation is high.”
Renee Fall, Project Manager, CAITE/ECEP, UMass Amherst School of Computer Science